Next Nissan Leaf to be followed by electric SUV, sports car?

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Nissan Sway Concept  -  2015 Geneva Motor Show live photos

Nissan Sway Concept - 2015 Geneva Motor Show live photos

While the Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV have gotten the lion's share of electric-car press lately, the Nissan Leaf remains the best-selling plug-in vehicle in history.

The 200,000th Leaf was sold globally sometime in January, putting the electric hatchback at roughly twice the volume of any other plug-in electric car to date.

With the Leaf now in its sixth model year, Nissan is clearly working on its replacement, likely to debut for the 2018 model year.

DON'T MISS: 2018 Nissan Leaf: What We Know So Far About New Electric Car (Mar 2015)

The next Leaf is likely to be a five-door hatchback, just as the current one is—but it won't be only the high-volume electric car Nissan plans to offer.

Shiro Nakamura, the company's senior vice president, told the U.K. publication AutoExpress that it could be followed by an electric crossover SUV and a sports car model as well.

The Nissan ESflow Concept for a battery-electric sports car debuted back in February 2011, but little more has been said about a plug-in sporty coupe since then.

2011 Nissan ESFLOW Concept

2011 Nissan ESFLOW Concept

The key to the new products will be a new modular vehicle architecture that can be adapted to both conventional and alternative powertrains, as well as multiple body styles.

"We see much more opportunity for [electric cars] than just a hatchback," Nakamura told AutoExpress.

One challenge in developing the new platform is battery placement. Like the Tesla Model S, the Nissan Leaf uses a thin, flat battery pack that runs the full width of the car and almost from axle to axle underneath the floorpan.

ALSO SEE: Nissan Sway Concept Sets The Look For Future Small Cars—And Leaf?

The problem is that adding a 4-to-6-inch thick battery under the floor raises vehicle height.

That's fine for an upright hatchback or a crossover utility vehicle with raised ground clearance, but far from ideal for a low sports car.

Nissan is considering whether the battery could be repackaged to fit into the tunnel between the two seats (the solution used for the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid) or under the rear seat.

Nissan Sway Concept - 2015 Geneva Motor Show live photos

Nissan Sway Concept - 2015 Geneva Motor Show live photos

That research is ongoing, and Nakamura said only that vehicles on the new platform could arrive "within the next five years."

That could run as late as a 2020 introduction for the 2021 model year—and raises the question of whether the next-generation Leaf might be a new body on the existing understructure.

Either way, Nissan is likely to say very little about the next Leaf, let alone a plug-in SUV five years out.

CHECK OUT: Nissan ESFlow Electric Sportscar Concept: 10 Facts You Didn't Know (Feb 2011)

The company needs to keep selling the new, 107-mile 2016 Leaf, which seems likely to carry into the 2017 model year, until the new model is ready to be launched.

But 325,000 reservations for the Tesla Model 3, and excitement over the launch of Chevy's 200-plus-mile Bolt EV by the end of this year, can't be helping Nissan's short-term goals much.

The new Nissan Leaf is expected to be offered with at least two battery options, one perhaps in the 100-to-125-mile range, a second in the 160-to-200-mile range.

Just don't expect to hear much about it for a while longer.

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